Yes, Democrats are Assholes Too

Yes, Democrats are Assholes Too — This weekend I carefully crafted an analytically sensitive and astonishingly insightful response to the many replies to my “Republicans are Insufferable Dorks” post. It was a gem. I wept like Halle Berry at the music of the language, the irresistible tautness of the arguments, the clever yet enticingly masculine dialectic. Then, just as I was about to triumphantly press Post & Publish and transmit my wisdom through the far flung ether, my computer locked up tighter than Miss Spears's thighs. I played Al Green. I said “I love you… I'll always love you.” In binary! But, no.
Because I was at the time hopped up on a cocktail of guarana, German chocolate, and crushed Ritalin, I don't now hope to replicate my heroic lost effort. I do, however, want to revisit a couple of my main points, in brief (don't believe it).
First, I am not, nor have I ever been a Democrat, although I freely admit to consorting with Democrats and enjoying it. And it should not need saying that a dislike of Ashcroft does not entail a love of Reno. (Here I am in front of the former Clinton residence handing out fliers in protest of the Reno-mandated kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez.) So, for the record: Ashcroft is an unlikable prick. Reno burns babies.
Second, I agree wholeheartedly that many Democrats are also uptight, sanctimonious, moralistic assholes, after their own fashion. Indeed, if you are a libertarian who has spent the last decade of his life in the universities, it’s an observation with the flavor of self-evidence. (What's the flavor of self-evidence? Peanuts. “Clear, distinct, and peanutty,” Descartes wrote of the cogito). But you have to ask why it is that the image of David Kessler or Robert Reich is not the image that leaps to the mind of the average college student when prompted with “quasi-fascist moral imperialist.”
My hypothesis is that leftish sanctimony is generally less offensive because it is lacquered over with layers of dissembling “progressive” rhetoric about health, equality, and the next step in the noble march of Social Justice. In contrast, choice Republicans, perhaps to their credit, will come straight out and thump tables and declare that YOU, THAT GUY, OVER THERE WITH THE MOUSTACHE, CHAPS, AND MEDICAL MARIJUANA, YOU are eating into the social fabric like a swarm of voracious moths, are personally responsible for the precipitous decline of Western Civilization, and will surely burn in Hell for your irreversibly corrupt influence on the Good. If you are THAT GUY you will not take kindly to this kind of assault on your identity. Whatever group the moralizing orator is member of, that is not your group.
Certain Democrats (now more likely Greens) surely believe that the businessman, say, is a rapacious leech sucking the blood of Justice from the body politic, and they may even say so to their friends over foie gras. But the rhetoric is that the businessman is swell as long as he “pays his fair share” or “gives back to the community.” I personally don't feel my sense of identity directly threatened when I'm asked to “give something back” even though I know what it really means. And those who seek to regulate cigarettes out of existence don't inveigh against the depravity of smokers. They blame somebody else — the media, peer pressure, the tobacco companies, anyone but you. It not your fault that you're doing whatever you're doing, and you probably can't help it, so we're just going to help you help yourself, improve the public health, and eliminate the exploitation of the weak by giant corporations in the name of Justice.
While demeaning if you think about it, this kind of rhetoric does not come off as a direct, malicious attack on the smoker's identity (and most people don't think about it). But if you're gay, or enjoy weed, or like that crazy rock and roll music, or don't believe in God, then there's some pretty visible Republican with bad hair, maybe with his own show on cable, who will tell you that you are rotten to the core. Just a few of these folks, in positions of sufficient prominence, help to create and enforce a conception of what it is to be a Republican so corrosive to sympathy that it would take a of boatload of Condis to counteract the effect.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

8 thoughts

  1. “There’s also another question being begged here: Without carbon taxes, and given the free rider problem, who has an incentive to invest in geoengineering?”
    That question is not so much begged here as robbed blind.
    The whole damn point of current international attempts is to put a price on carbon emission. Countries can then choose to cut their net emissions by reducing burning coal, or by geo-engineering (planting a million super-trees, for example) – or to keep burning coal and pay some other country for carbon-credits to plant a million super-trees.
    How the hell are you going to get geo-engineering going unless we first get the market to provide such incentives? Is Will Wilkinson arguing for a vast 5-year Great Leap Forward of govt-funded research because he thinks that’s better than pricing carbon and getting the market to provide? Is Will Wilkinson arguing that he should pick between geo-engineering and cutting emissions because he knows *so* much about the price of each, instead of pricing carbon and letting the market decide?

  2. “if the success of a primarily technological approach is no less probable than the success of a primarily global political-regulatory approach”
    Who pays for this technological approach? Santa Claus?
    If geo-engineering is to save us for the cost of merely a few hundred billion, who is going to foot the bill? You don’t get a choice between global political-regulation and geo-engineering. Funding international geo-engineering efforts requires global political agreement – and regulation about who funds it.

  3. Regardless of the merits, geoengineering is going to be thrown into the pot of denialist arguments. That’s the political problem — not environmentalists casting doubts on valid technological proposals for dirty political reasons. (There’s politics on both sides, incidentally).
    If there were an overall consensus on the major issues, geoengineering proposals would certainly be worth at least a look. But there isn’t. Every major point of the argument is denied by players who are many orders of magnitude more powerful politically than they are intellectually. And for them, geoengineering is just another thing to pull out of the bag and throw.
    Environmentalism and free market utopianism (cornucopianism) have always been deadly enemies, and few of the utopians have made a good-faith effort to figure out what’s going on. There’s too much at stake for them to do that.

  4. Throwing in a comment from Rortybomb (, which also has a trackback below: “Having spent a fair amount of brainpower and energy over the past month trying to convince right-leaning folks and libertarians that having three bureaucrats sit down and come up with a default ‘vanilla option’ checking account won’t be a first step on the road to serfdom, I’m somewhat confused by the wave of excitement among right-leaning folks and libertarians for having three bureaucrats sit down and come up with the optimal level of sulfur to be pumped into the stratosphere at the north and south poles.”

    1. This ever-so-baffling paradox may have something to do with the fact that in the one case the alternative is having three bureaucrats sit down and come up with an emissions cap to be imposed on the entire economy, while in the other the alternative is having three bureaucrats do nothing at all.

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